John Wayne’s Granddaughter Is A Woman Of True Grit – And She's Opened Up About The Icon's Legacy

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The world remembers John Wayne as cinema’s quintessential cowboy whose roles embodied the American values of his time. But there was more to the star than his on-screen escapades. Jennifer Wayne was just one of the actor’s many grandchildren, you see, and she inherited her famous grandfather’s spirit and looks. Naturally, it seems she has plenty of stories about him, too – and the young woman is now not only starting to share more about his legacy but also the true character behind his iconic image.

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As we’ve suggested, John built a big family behind the scenes. He married three times, and his unions to Josephine Alicia Saenz and Pilar Palette produced seven children in total. With Josephine, he had sons Michael and Patrick and daughters Mary and Melinda. Then came John, Aissa and Marisa, who made up his brood with Palette.

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With seven children, then, it’s no surprise that John had tons of grandkids. Indeed, the Academy Award-winning actor had 26 all told – some of whom he never got the chance to meet before his death in 1979. But that isn’t to say the late star doesn’t share a connection with the family that he left behind. And this includes his granddaughter Jennifer.

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Jennifer didn’t want to keep the stories about her famous grandfather all to herself, though. So, as a way of keeping John’s spirit alive, she shared tales of childhood and family memories with Risen magazine. And what she had to say painted an entirely different picture of the Hollywood star known for his True Grit and idealized cowboy values. 

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On April 1, 1982, Aissa Wayne and Earl Lawrence Kuhle II welcomed their daughter, Jennifer. She joined an illustrious Hollywood family helmed by her late grandfather, who we already know is John Wayne. Their lives didn’t overlap, as he passed away three years before Jennifer’s birth. But that didn’t mean he wasn’t a big part of her family life.

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Indeed, Jennifer told Risen magazine that, even in childhood, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in the arts — just like her famous grandfather. Interestingly, though, it wasn’t the silver screen that called to the young woman. She explained, “I’ve loved music since I was little.” But it seems she couldn’t pursue her passion right away.

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Instead, Jennifer’s father, Earl, pushed her to play sport. She explained, “With my dad, music wasn’t really an option; it was tennis, tennis, tennis.” It wasn’t for nothing, either, as John Wayne’s granddaughter ascended the ranks to become a professional player. 

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Despite this sporting achievement, though, Jennifer didn’t forget her love of music. She said, “When I turned 18, I thought, ‘Okay, I’m 18 now, I can do what I want!’ So, I got a guitar and started playing.” And luckily, she had some help from the extra-large Wayne family, which is chock-full of her grandfather’s descendants.

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Yes, Jennifer’s aunt Marisa helped the young woman spark her music career. She explained how her mother’s sister “was the only musical one in [the] family, and she had moved to Nashville at one point and pursued singing for a while.” Who better then her to provide tips and advice for the then-aspiring musician?

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While Jennifer was still a tennis star, her sporting buddies — and beaus — pushed her to pursue her passion, too. Yes, she once dated Bob Bryan, who played doubles alongside his brother, Mike. And like John’s granddaughter, the athletically-gifted family were also musical. The brothers played the piano and drums, you see, while their dad accompanied them on the guitar.

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The Bryan family patriarch implored Jennifer to sing with them. She recalled, “I was so shy and at first didn’t want to do it, but when they were playing one day, he called me up on stage and literally made me get up there and sing. I was so nervous, but I did it!” From there, the group would play small gigs together — and that’s how Jennifer got her first taste of singing in a band.

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So, as John’s granddaughter reached adulthood, she was able to ditch the tennis court for country pastures. She told the website Nash Country Daily that after she turned 18, she followed in her aunt Marisa’s footsteps. Jennifer said, “I had always wanted to be a songwriter, so I moved to Nashville. That’s how I got here. I didn’t know anyone, I just moved here.”

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Before musical stardom, though, Jennifer got the chance to twice compete on the reality show The Amazing Race. And prior to the 2013 installment of the series, the musician told CBS, “My grandpa is John Wayne. Hopefully, I got a little bit of his toughness.”

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In the end, Jennifer didn’t win The Amazing Race, but on one of her attempts, she and her partner missed out on the million-dollar prize by just four seconds. Luckily, though, she would find the best was still to come — at least in music, which was, after all, her greatest passion.

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In 2016, Jennifer formed the musical group Runaway June with fellow musicians Naomi Cooke and Hannah Mulholland. And the country trio found that their voices melded perfectly together. As Jennifer explained, “[Naomi] sounds really good in the middle. Hannah sounds really good on the lower register and mine is good on the higher register. So it just kind of works. We feel like that’s the sweet spot for all of our voices.”

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The girls met in Nashville, where Jennifer and Hannah would write music together. Then, when they met Naomi, they brought her into the fold to form the trio. And according to John’s granddaughter, the band’s name Runaway June was formed as it brings each of their individual stories together.

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Jennifer explained, “My grandma’s name is June. Naomi has a sister named June. Hannah went on a 25-day hike that she’d always wanted to go on in June, and we signed our record deal in June. It’s just kind of a lucky month for us. And we’re all runaways… we ran away from home to chase this crazy dream.”

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Runaway June got the chance to join country pop singer-songwriter Carrie Underwood on her Cry Pretty Tour 360 from May to October 2019. In the same year, the trio released their first album, Blue Roses. And although they’ve appeared on the Billboard charts, it hasn’t always been easy for the band.

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Indeed, on May 14, 2020, Runaway June announced that Hannah would be leaving the trio. And the next day, the band named her replacement as Natalie Stovall. Such changes couldn’t shake Jennifer, though, as she told Risen magazine that she knew she was pursuing her life’s purpose.

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Jennifer said, “I know I’m supposed to be doing music because it’s in me. I feel like our music has great, real messages, because what we sing about is real and what we really believe in. Our intentions are taking any kind of success we achieve and then doing some good with it.”

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But it’s not just in her career that Jennifer has shown she has true grit like her grandfather. The singer also faced some tough times in her personal life, and given her popularity, it soon became public knowledge. On December 28, 2016, she announced her engagement to fellow country star William Michael Morgan. However, less than four months later, they called off their impending nuptials.

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Jennifer, it seems, took it all in stride and appeared cool and confident – just like her cowboy grandfather. She shared a photo of her engagement ring-free hand to Instagram, captioning the picture with lyrics from the Runaway June song “Lipstick.” She wrote, “If you’re gonna love somebody… yeah you better love somebody, who ruins your lipstick, not your mascara.”

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This level-headedness seemingly fits right into the Wayne family mentality. Before Jennifer opened up about her favorite stories about her grandfather, her mother, aunts and uncles spoke to AARP, The Magazine. There, they shared some of their most memorable moments with their dad — and revealed how he was just as cool off screen as he appeared in his films. 

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Jennifer’s mom, Aissa, recalled a time when she’d purposefully stepped on a friend that she’d had over to play. The attorney said, “I was kind of a tomboy, and my dad liked that. But she went screaming to my dad, who was inside with some grownups. I followed her in, and my dad, who was large and loud, demanded, ‘Did you step on her head?’”

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But John Wayne wasn’t necessarily angry with her actions — he just wanted honesty. Aissa continued, “I hesitated, and then he said, much more quietly, ‘Come here. If you lie to me, you’re gonna disappoint me, and you’re gonna go to your room and you’re gonna be punished. If you tell the truth, well, you’re still gonna be punished, but I’m not gonna be disappointed in you.’”

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With that, young Aissa decided to tell her father the truth about the stomping. And he accepted her honesty without question. The attorney recalled, “Then it was over. He never rehashed it. That’s the kind of father he was.” The icon apparently showed the same grace with his daughter Marisa, too.

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When Marisa was nine, you see, she accepted her father’s offer to go swing golf clubs at a driving range. But John Wayne’s daughter wasn’t a natural, so she kept missing the ball. Then, she finally hit a much bigger target with her club: her father’s head.

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John went to the hospital, where he made a joke of the situation to his young, scared nine-year-old. He said to Marissa, “Well, you’re the only one who had the nerve to do this to me!” And the Academy Award winner continued to chuckle about the accident after the fact. He even stopped calling his daughter by her original nickname, Princess, in favor of a more relevant moniker, Nine Iron.

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Unfortunately for Jennifer, though, she missed meeting her grandfather by just a few years. Nevertheless, her family made sure that she’d heard their best stories about the famous actor. And like the tales her mother, aunts and uncles told, the Runaway June singer’s memories don’t disappoint.

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Firstly, Jennifer told Risen how it didn’t feel strange growing up knowing she had a world-famous granddad. What she did find odd, however, was she’d talk to other kids about their grandmothers and grandfathers. She revealed, “I would always ask the other kids, ‘What channel is your grandpa on?’”

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Jennifer asked that, of course, because her grandfather was always on the same TV channel: AMC. She explained, “I could just turn it on [and see him]! So, I’d always ask what channel their grandpas were on because I didn’t know that it was any different.” Still, that wasn’t her favorite memory of John Wayne.

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The interviewer went on to ask Jennifer to reveal her best-loved story about the actor. She said she had “so many favorite stories,” but she landed on one particular tale “because it’s so cute.” The Runaway June singer began by explaining, “So, my grandfather absolutely loved the mornings.”

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She continued by saying he liked them so much that “he would get up and watch the sunrise every morning, and he wanted everyone else to be up with him.” This included his children, of course. So, to coax Aissa out of bed he’d apparently tell her, “Get up! You’re burnin’ daylight!”

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John Wayne fans will recognize that the actor used the same quote in some of his films, such as The Cowboys, for example. But that’s not why Jennifer loved the story. Instead, she continued, “Well, this one time when my mom was still a young girl, they were on his boat, and my mom had brought her best friend on the trip.”

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Jennifer said that her mom’s boat-based bedroom had bunk beds, and Aissa chose the same spot to sleep every time. As she explained, “There were bunk beds in my mom’s room, and my mom always slept on the bottom bunk.” However, on this particular trip, she let her friend take the lower bed instead.

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So, the early-rising John Wayne came in the next day to alert his daughter to the requisite sunrise. Because he always found her in the bottom bunk, he didn’t think twice about how he woke her up. Jennifer said, “My grandpa came in […], went to the bottom bunk and slapped my mom’s best friend on the butt and said, “Get up! You’re burnin’ daylight!’”

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Aissa’s friend, of course, was shocked at how she’d been woken up so abruptly. Jennifer said, “she screamed and jumped up and said, ‘Mr. Wayne!’ When they all realized what happened, my mom and grandpa and her friend just laughed and laughed. He was so embarrassed that he slapped someone else’s butt that he thought was his daughter.”

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But Jennifer’s favorite stories weren’t all funny ones — there were heart-warming ones, too. She recalled, “My mom also said that there was a rule in the house that if you walked by him, you had to give him a kiss. He was so affectionate and loving with his family. He was such a family man.”

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Over the years, Jennifer has clearly come to admire her grandfather, even if she didn’t get the chance to meet him. She has also taken in some of his flicks, memorizing some of her favorite quotes, too. Surprisingly, her selection wasn’t, “Get up! You’re burnin’ daylight!’”

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Instead, Jennifer landed on a quote that defined both her and her grandfather’s true grit. She said, “My favorite quote of his is, ‘Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.’ It’s my favorite because it means everything to me when it comes to going for your dreams. He certainly went for his dreams, and look what happened.”

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As we’ve seen, then, John Wayne’s spirit will no doubt live on through the tales shared by his sprawling family. But icons don’t always need to have 26 grandchildren in order for their memories to stay alive. Take Elvis Presley, for instance, who had just one grandson named Benjamin Keough. You may not have even heard of him – but he bore an uncanny resemblance to the late superstar.

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You’d be forgiven for not knowing that Elvis Presley had a grandson, as Benjamin Keough – the individual in question – was seemingly determined to live out his life away from the spotlight. Yet although Benjamin appeared to want to maintain his privacy right up until his tragic passing, his family occasionally shared pictures of him. And one photograph of Elvis’ relative particularly wowed fans across the world, as they couldn’t get over just how much the young man resembled the King.

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The story of how Benjamin came into the world is a long and complicated one. As almost every Elvis fan will know, the rocker was married once, to Priscilla Presley. And when the pair first began dating, he was 24 years old, while she was ten years his junior. Apparently, some of the star’s friends raised objections to this sizable age gap, too. But Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship nevertheless flourished, and the iconic musician finally tied the knot with his girlfriend once she reached her early 20s.

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Then the couple’s only child, Lisa Marie, came into the world exactly nine months after their wedding on February 1, 1968. Yet Priscilla apparently disliked that she had become pregnant so early. She had even reportedly planned to go on birth control, but it’s said that the young woman had been advised not to by Elvis. Priscilla is rumored to have considered having an abortion, too, but supposedly she eventually decided against it.

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In a 1985 piece for People magazine, Priscilla wrote about how she had discovered that she was pregnant. And during the time she was expecting a child, it seemed as though a major priority had been not losing her husband. She said, “I still kept up with my ballet, rode my motorcycle and my horse Domino right up until the eighth month of pregnancy. Elvis thought I was absolutely incredible to keep up with him in every way. That made me happy. I was pleasing him and still by his side every day.”

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But Priscilla’s fears were realized when Elvis suddenly asked for a trial separation. Later, she wrote of this period, “I wanted to die. I was seven months along and could not believe what I was hearing. I don’t think Elvis really intended to leave me. It wasn’t his style. I later realized he had questions about how a baby would affect his life.”

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Priscilla further mused on her then-husband, “Would his public accept him as a father? He wasn’t even sure if his fans had adapted to his becoming a husband. How loyal would they be?” Luckily, though, the decision to split was soon reversed. She went on, “Within a short time, Elvis’ sensitive nature brought him back to his senses. Two days had passed. The idea of a trial separation was never mentioned again. We both acted as if nothing had been said.”

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And once Lisa Marie came into the world, both Elvis and Priscilla were apparently united in their admiration for the new arrival. Priscilla said, “The nurse brought [Lisa Marie] into my room, and I cradled her in my arms. She was so tiny – so beautiful. Elvis came into the room and kissed me, thrilled that we had had a perfectly normal, healthy baby. Then he took us both in his arms and held us.” Unfortunately, though, the happiness didn’t last.

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Priscilla went on to write for People, “As the months passed, I realized that now that I was a mother, Elvis was uncertain how to treat me. He had mentioned before we were married that he had never been able to make love to a woman who’d had a child. But throughout my pregnancy – until the last six weeks – we had made love passionately. He’d been very careful each time, afraid that he might hurt the baby or me. Now months had passed.”

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And, sadly, the couple’s problems continued to grow. Finally, then, amidst the problems of affairs, legal troubles and drug abuse, Elvis and Priscilla officially divorced on October 9, 1973. Both parents would go on to share custody of their young daughter, and the two were seemingly fine with this arrangement. Then, just four years on from the end of the marriage, Elvis tragically died.

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Lisa Marie was just nine years old when her father passed away, in fact. Yet despite the turmoil that racked Elvis’ life, his daughter would always remember him as a good parent. For instance, during a 2007 appearance on Good Morning America, Lisa Marie told Diane Sawyer, “He’d always wake me up to sing in the middle of the night – get on the table and sing. I remember him as my dad, but he was a very exciting dad.”

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Lisa Marie also explained that, after Elvis had passed away, she “couldn’t really process what was happening.” And, apparently, one moment in particular was a real struggle for the young girl: the time when she had had to view her father’s body. Lisa Marie said, “I did a lot of strange things that day because it didn’t really settle in. I rode my golf cart. I ran around and smoked cigarettes at nine, in the guard shack somewhere. I was crazy. I don’t know, I did, like, wacky things.”

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So there’s no doubt that Lisa Marie’s childhood was far from ordinary. For one, owing to all the money that her famous father had amassed throughout his life, she grew up as the heir to a vast fortune. And after her grandparents Vernon and Minnie passed away, the young woman was therefore worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

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But although Lisa Marie’s life began in a rather unconventional manner, her adulthood saw her embark on a common rite of passage: marriage. And in the end, Elvis would have four grandchildren whom he would never know. The first two came from Lisa Marie’s relationship with musician Danny Keough, whom she wed in 1988. These children were Danielle Riley Keough, born in 1989, and Benjamin Storm Keough, who entered the world in 1992.

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Lisa Marie divorced Danny in 1994 when Benjamin was still a toddler – although the former couple remained good friends. In 2003 she told the Star Tribune, “I don’t know how, but we’ve managed to stay close… There’s others that I have pain or betrayal associated with that I won’t have anything to do with. But [Danny] and I had a special thing.”

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Meanwhile, during her 2007 Good Morning America interview, Lisa Marie considered the similarities that Benjamin and Riley – the name she goes under – shared with their famous grandfather. She said, “They both have traits. My son has got this very regal thing about him. He’s just got this dynamic energy that is familiar. And then my daughter, just – the humor, you know. She’s got the intelligence, and she’s smart – although I find her more like my mother than I do [Elvis].”

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After splitting from Danny, however, Lisa Marie went through a chaotic period in her life. A mere 20 days after the divorce went through, for example, she married Michael Jackson – a decision that she would later claim to regret. In a 2007 interview with Marie Claire, when asked what her biggest mistake so far had been, the star would say, “Leaving my first marriage for the person that I left it for.”

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Lisa Marie even reportedly considered having kids with Jackson, although she ultimately decided against it. In 2010 she told Oprah, “I was looking into the future, and I was thinking I don’t ever want to get into a custody battle with [Jackson]… I don’t want to go head to head with him, so I need to make sure that everyone around is good. I know; I’ve had children. I knew bringing children into certain circumstances – you have to make sure everything’s safe and secure and okay.”

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Then in 2002 Lisa Marie married for the third time to actor Nicolas Cage – who is reportedly a massive Elvis fan. The then-13-year-old Riley served as the flower girl, while Benjamin and Cage’s young son Weston were the pageboys. At the time, the media also speculated that Lisa Marie was pregnant with Cage’s baby.

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However, Lisa Marie was not pregnant, while the marriage itself lasted barely any time at all. The pair were wed in August, you see, and in November of the same year Cage filed for divorce. In fact, the divorce proceedings ended up lasting longer than the couple’s union: it was May 2004 when the paperwork finally went through.

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Seemingly undeterred, Lisa Marie married her fourth husband, producer Michael Lockwood, in 2006. The wedding was held in Japan, with Danny Keough as the best man. Then, two years later, the by now 40-year-old Lisa Marie announced that she was pregnant with twins after newspapers had started criticizing her weight gain.

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By the time the two new children were born in October 2008, moreover, Riley was 19 years old and Benjamin 15. And the babies, both girls, were named Harper Vivienne Ann and Finley Aaron Love. In fact, twins are common within the Presley family: Elvis had a stillborn twin brother, and Priscilla had brothers who were twins, too.

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So, Lisa Marie now had a big family of her own. And in 2009 she spoke about her life and her children on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She was still very close to Danny, she revealed, saying, “I knew that no matter what happened, we would always be connected. And I don’t know how I knew that at such a young age, but I instinctively knew that and had those children with him. And we are like best friends: brother and sister.”

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In the interview, Lisa Marie also explained that Danny actually lived on the same property as her. She added, “It’s hard to have that kind of relationship with your ex… but I think it’s very important if you have children with somebody to keep your responsibility. You don’t need to put what you guys went through or what you had with each other on the children.”

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Then, when Oprah asked Lisa Marie, “What do you think you’re best at as a mother?” she answered, “Just overwhelming [my children] with affection and love. They need to push me off of them… And then having that versus being their friend – trying really hard to be their friend as well as be a mother. That’s the fence you walk, which is important because you can’t go too much on one side or the other.”

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And Oprah also asked, “How do you instill in [your children] what’s important as a human being? As a citizen of the world, your community, when you’ve got everything?” Lisa Marie replied, however, “You have to be an example. I’m not somebody who sits around. I’m not happy unless I’m helping other people. And they watch me, and they see that.”

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That same year, there were rumors that Benjamin was going to try and make it in the music industry – just like his grandfather. In October 2009 U.K. newspaper the Daily Mail reported, “The slicked-back hair, full lips and rock star swagger are all present and correct. All [Benjamin] needs now is a pair of blue suede shoes.”

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The Daily Mail quoted Benjamin as saying, however, that his “music will be nothing like Elvis – nothing like him at all.” Meanwhile, an unnamed spokesman was reported to have said of the young man, “He’s a typical 17-year-old. He doesn’t get up before midday and then grunts at you.” It was reported, too, that Benjamin’s record deal was worth a whopping $5 million.

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Yet that turned out in the end to be a false story. That same month, U.K. newspaper the Daily Mirror reported that Peter LoFrumento, the executive vice-president of the company Universal Music, had told the media, “This story is totally untrue.” And indeed no music by Benjamin – Elvis-like or not – has ever been released.

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Then in 2012 Lisa Marie released a music video for the track “I Love You Because” that featured footage of her parents and all of her children. And Benjamin – who was 19 at the time – particularly caught people’s eyes. In October of that year, TV network CMT asked Lisa Marie of her son, “He looks so much like Elvis. Does he get that reaction a lot?”

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Lisa Marie answered, with a laugh, “He does! He was at the [Grand Ole] Opry and was the quiet storm behind the stage! Everybody turned around and looked when he was over there. Everybody was grabbing him for a photo because it is just uncanny. Sometimes I am overwhelmed when I look at him.”

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And several years later, the family resemblance became all the clearer. In June 2019 Lisa Marie posted an Instagram picture of herself and all four of her children, captioned “Mama Lion with cubs.” What’s more, people were seemingly awestruck at how much like Elvis Benjamin appeared. One commenter wrote, for example, “Your son is almost a twin to your dad! Thanks for sharing this pic!”

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Newsweek magazine wrote of the snap, meanwhile, “Following a family picture posted Thursday by Elvis Presley’s daughter, Lisa Presley, Twitter users had to do a double-take after seeing her son, Benjamin” and declared that the young man “looks to be a spitting image of his famous grandfather.” Benjamin himself, however, said nothing about the viral pic.

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In fact, despite his family’s fame, Benjamin kept a very low profile. He seemingly had no social media, for instance, and gave no interviews. Over the years, he only really popped up on his mother’s Instagram and on a 2005 documentary called Elvis by the Presleys. And the only snippets about his life that people knew were mostly revealed by his mother or older sister.

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In a 2013 interview with HuffPost, Lisa Marie revealed that, like many kids, her own children didn’t always have time for their mother. Apparently, Benjamin loved touring. Lisa Marie said of her son, “It’s on his time frame. Always. Then when he’s ready to see me, he’ll come.” Both Benjamin and Riley, she continued, often had “something pressing going on at that age.”

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Riley has made a name for herself, in any case, as an actress, having appeared in movies such as Mad Max: Fury Road, Logan Lucky and Magic Mike. And in interviews about her ever more successful career, the rising star has occasionally shared some tidbits about what life was like for her and Benjamin growing up.

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In 2017 Riley told U.K. newspaper The Guardian, “I grew up very privileged with my mother, but my dad didn’t live like that. And I think experiencing both sides has been helpful. My father had mattresses on the floor of his apartments. He lived in cabins and trailer parks. He just didn’t have much money.” It’s probably safe to say, then, that Benjamin experienced the same.

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Furthermore, Lisa Marie made sure that her kids knew who their grandfather was. In 2014, when Benjamin and Riley were adults and the twins were five, she appeared on the show Oprah: Where Are They Now and said, “They kind of know, because they heard music and stuff, and they’ve gotten the idea.”

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Lisa Marie went on, “I just say [that Elvis] was a very special person who sang, and he touched a lot of people in the world, [and] people loved him and they’re going to love you because of him. And they kind of understand that.” There’s no doubt, though, that that’s a very big legacy to try and live up to.

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In the same Oprah interview, meanwhile, Lisa Marie talked about how she parented and continued to parent her children. She announced, “I’m very, very protective, number one. Also, [I] want to be their friend and protect them but also get them to learn how to live in the world that we’re living in.”

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So if Benjamin had decided to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and become a music star, it seems that he would have had a good support system in place. Sadly, though, he never got the chance. On July 12, 2020, Elvis’ lookalike grandson – who had always kept a low profile – passed away as  a result of suicide. According to Lisa Marie’s manager, Roger Widynowski, the mother is “heartbroken, inconsolable and beyond devastated.”

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